What the Frack?!: Grassroots group pushes for fracking moratorium in Arapahoe County

The first time Sonia Skakich-Scrima learned about fracking, she was reading the Denver Business Journal almost a year ago to date. What she read alarmed her, but what she Googled afterward tripled that.

"I tried to understand why we didn't care about the environment or the aftermath," she says. "I still don't know the answer."

One year later, she believes little has changed inside the oil and gas industry -- which is why she founded a grassroots movement to target the issue in Colorado. What the Frack?! Arapahoe County shares the first half of its name with a handful of other Internet chapters, but its message is definitively local: The still-small group is aiming to at the very least bring awareness to the hydraulic fracturing industry in Aurora, Arapahoe County and Colorado.

As a native of Arapahoe County, home to a handful of potential residential fracking sites near communities such as Murphy Creek and Cross Creek, Skakich-Scrima has been investigating the possible repercussions from fracking for her hometown. Lowry Range, for instance, is home to four area aquifers.

What the Frack?! protesters take to a Colorado State Land Board review in June.
What the Frack?! protesters take to a Colorado State Land Board review in June.
Michele Swenson

"I started looking deeper into our Colorado regulations, and I was really alarmed to discover that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the regulatory committee, appears to be primarily promotional and is willing to overlook all these significant questions," she says. "The reason the industry and the regulatory industry has been so successful about keeping the cost of all this away from the public is that they are exempt from most of the acts that would prohibit this action. And I know Arapahoe County is small, and I know this sounds cheesy, but you have to start somewhere."

When she calls What the Frack?! a grassroots organization, she isn't kidding: In its first few weeks, the group consisted solely of Skakich-Scrima speaking to small groups at libraries and to the homeowners' associations of neighborhoods that could be affected by fracking. She lectured on water security, public health and property values, and while some residents were put off, others paid attention.

The group has since guaranteed the consistent involvement of ten regular volunteers, though its size swells at protests such as one What the Frack?! staged during Colorado State Land Board reviews. What the Frack?! has circulated three petitions against fracking in Arapahoe County, with the most popular earning about 900 signatures. It's a step, she says.

A December town hall meeting in Aurora about fracking was attended by approximately 150 people, with the event showcasing input from both industry people and What the Frack?! supporters. And while Skakick-Scrima hopes to increase the second category, the group's greatest focus in coming months will be on efforts to prohibit fracking in Aurora altogether by finalizing the moratorium a handful of other cities have already accepted.

In neighboring cities such as Colorado Springs, moratoriums have been a success, and similar considerations are on the table in Longmont and Commerce City.

"It seems like everyone, the governor and the attorney general and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, is telling everyone that there is nothing a small city or town can do about fracking, and that's not true," volunteer Pat Dunn says. "We got a call recently from a woman in Brighton who said she just bought her dream home and tomorrow they'll be fracking in her backyard. She asked what could she do. What do you say to that?"

In the coming months, the issue will come to public debate before it reaches Aurora City Council in an official capacity, and What the Frack?! volunteers plan to be there to promote it.

"We're calling for another study session on fracking," Dunn says. "It is our intention to make sure it's a public meeting, and we've asked for the oil and gas industry to be there and for there to be speakers for What the Frack?! to be included. We want both sides to speak, but we want that moratorium."

More from our Politics archive: "Fracking: Gas industry pours $747 million into lobbying and Congress."

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